Thursday 19 June 2008


I wander if we’ll ever see a film like “Total Recall” again. The film was major Hollywood blockbuster starring the biggest international movie star at the time. In today’s cinema environment “Total Recall” would be a tent pole film, written for the widest possible audience, and designed to generate a sequel or two, a TV series and a theme park.

Let’s go back in time. According to Wikipedia, "Total Recall" had the largest authorized production budget for a Hollywood film. Arnold Schwarzenegger was major star, but not yet at his height of stardom (next summer's blockbuster T2 would confirm that). Director Paul Verhoeven was coming off “Robocop” – a sci-fi/action/satire and one of the most violent films ever made. Despite no stars and an R rating, the unexpected success of “Robocop” allowed him to make “Total Recall”.

1990 is different than 2008, and a filmmaker like Paul Verhoeven would rarely be allowed carte blanche with the biggest star and biggest budget in Hollywood to make a film one of the most eye-popping over-the-top violent, politically incorrect, lewd and bad taste films ever made. It was a different time then, politics were different, prevailing cultural attitudes were different. Look at some of the films made in the late 80’s, early 90’s – perhaps the glory days of the action violence – “Robocop”, “Rambo III”, “Commando”, “The Last Boy Scout”, "Extreme Prejudice" and all those Steven Seagal films - it was a different era. In today’s Hollywood cinema it’s rare for a mainstream film to show even a blood squib (a bloodless “Iron Man” helped it succeed in the box office).

“Total Recall” is the height of a unique era in cinema we may never see again - a true masterpiece of mainstream crass and indecency.

“Total Recall” deserves to be celebrated. If it were made today we most certainly would have missed out on these classic moments:

"Baby, you make me wish I had three hands!"

When Quaid first enters "Venusville" - the redlight district of Mars, he is approached by perhaps cinema's most audacious sexual fetish - a three titted lady!

Kuato Lives!

One of the mysteries of the story is 'Who is Kuato?" - the mythical leader of the Martian revolution. Kuato is dramatically revealed to us to be a mutant growing out of Marshall Bell's body.

Human Shield

Cudos to our hero Quaid who uncaringly using an innocent bystander’s dead body as a human shield to protect himself against rapid gunfire. Come on - that is totally awesome. Would Jason Bourne even attempt that? No way!

Richter’s Arms

After the dramatic elevator fight between Quaid and Richter, Quaid ultimately wins out crushing his opponent to death under an elevator platform leaving Richter's two maimed arms in his hands as souvenirs. "See you at the party Richter!"

Kuato Dies!

Special effects designer Rob Bottin was part and parcel with Verhoeven's ultraviolent streak from "Robocop" to "Basic Instinct". He was a master at organic body and creature effects. And Kuato's 'bullet to the head' slo-motion close-up must surely be on his reel.

Arnie shooting Edgemar in the head

Again, whenever will a hero so callously blow an unarmed man's head off without pause? In fact, Quaid does pause thinking he's not a human - but kills him because he is.

Dwarf brandishing a machinegun

OK, it's not crass, but even dwarves and mutants can kick ass in Verhoven's films. How awesome is that!

Stepping on a Dead Body

After the awesome escalator shootout Quaid escapes and the bad guys run to follow. Paul Verhoeven takes the time to shoot and edit in a cutaway of Richter actually stepping on the bullet ridden chest of a dead body - presumably that poor sap that Arnie used as a human shield.

"Total Recall" would go on to earn $120million in the US box office, good for seventh best that year. But what if “Total Recall” were made today? Well, it likely turn out to be “Minority Report” which interestingly enough was originally written as “Total Recall 2” with Quaid as the cop who solves crime in the future.


Big Mike Mendez said...

I miss movies like Total Recall. I don't know why I was allowed to watch it so much as a kid, but it completely informed me about corporation, government and the way the two work with each other to enslave the masses. It's as much a satire as Robocop Great review, now get youhr ass to Mahrs.

Josh said...

I don't think there are any films like "Total Recall" that capture the nerdy-bloodlust that we always want to see in today's comic style films. With the exception of "300" which was limited because of the director's loyalty to the book, we never see a hero like Quaid: A sexed-up, unlikable asshole who shows no mercy.

Sorry Tony Stark, you may have been in the best film of 2008 (so far), but you'll never get your ass to Mars like my favorite eyeball-popping Austrian.

Alan Bacchus said...

Hey Josh - I thought of 300 as well - In fact, I think Sin City is the best example of pleasurable cinematic indecency today. But for the highest budgeted film in Hollywood - never again.

Andrew D. Wells said...

I think the reason you don't see violence hoisted up with the same glory it was in the late 80's is because filmmakers have gotten so good at depicting it realistically that audiences can't get behind it in the same way. While Bottin's gifts certainly added to the cinematic landscape of Verhoven and the 80's in general (his designs for John Carpenter's The Thing put him right up there with Winston -- what a sad loss, you have to admit, the gore is pretty cheesy in Recall. But look at the most recent Rambo movie and I think you'll find a pretty good example of why violence can't be viewed in movies the same way it was in the late 80's. The violence in that film is down right horrific compared with the camp of Recall and even Robocop or the other Rambos.